Big Ten Wonk
Friday, January 27, 2006
Welcome to Geek Day II!
Yes, time once again to abandon for a day this blog's never-ending quest to balance words and stats and just cave in to the geek-based clamoring for numbers. For a day.

A taboo is broken!
Discussion will now ensue on item number 1 on my list of the four dullest topics for a hoops blog. My "clearly stated rationale"? The alert readers demand it!...

Hi, Wonk,

Obligatory opening about how much I enjoy your blog. But it's true--you are a daily read. Consider posting on weekends.

Bonus non-obligatory compliment on proper usage of philosophical terms! I'm a former Big Ten undergrad now doing a Ph.D. in philosophy on the west coast. Can't tell you how hard I laugh when you discuss the ontological futility of Penn State basketball.

I have a project for you or one of the other canonical bloggers (You all share data, right? Ah, the unfettered pursuit of truth!) Does anybody have numbers on fouls committed by the home team vs. fouls drawn by the home team in Big Ten games?

This question is prompted by the MSU at UM game! One of the disadvantages of the west coast lifestyle is that I don't get to see many Big Ten games. I really couldn't say if MSU got shafted (26 fouls) or if UM got away with larceny (13 fouls). But I've been hearing a lot of that from some old buddies.

So I did a quick check of Big Ten stats for the young conference season. In the first five conference games, MSU committed 17.2 fouls per game and drew 16.8 against five top 25 teams. UM committed 17.6 fouls per game and drew 15.4 against mixed company. It's early in the season, but my initial impression is: it was extremely unlikely that MSU would commit so many fouls. MSU hasn't been particularly foul-prone and UM hasn't been particularly good at drawing fouls. The data suggests that the game was in that respect an aberration. Some old buddies have been nonplussed by this rather modest answer.

But what we really need is data on fouls called on the home team and fouls called on the visitors. What is the supposed "home court advantage" in terms of fouls and free throw attempts? This is, after all, a sore spot for a lot of fans--it sure would be nice to start such discussions on a more rational basis.

Nick D.

Good news, Nick! The alert readers have risen to your occasion....


Yes, I realize that officiating is one of the four dullest hoops topics. And I think home cooking is just part of playing on the road in the Big Ten. Everyone plays the same number of home and away games, so it evens out in the end.

Sure, it's frustrating for this Indiana fan when the Hoosiers are on the road--just like it's frustrating for the opponent in Bloomington. However, after seeing the foul differential in the Indiana @ Iowa game and the MSU @ Michigan game, I decided some research was in order.

There have been 34 Big Ten games so far this season. I looked at each one and noted the number of fouls on the home team and the away team. Here are the results:

Total games = 34
Average fouls/game = 33.4
Average away fouls/game = 18.3
Average home fouls/game = 15.2
Average foul differential = 3.1

Visiting team has more fouls in 24 of 34 games.
Foul differential of eight or more in home team's favor in eight games.
Foul differential of eight or more in visiting team's favor in zero games.

Obviously those are some pretty telling numbers. I think the last two are particularly interesting. An eight-foul differential is obviously pretty darn big--it NEVER happens to the home team but it's happened to the road team a whopping 24 percent of the time.

So then I wracked my brain trying to think of an explanation for this difference that didn't involve biased officiating. I came up with one alternative explanation. Obviously, some foul differential is the result of the trailing team fouling late in the game, and since B10 home teams win at a remarkable clip this might account for the difference. Of course, there's a cause-and-effect problem there, because it could be that home teams win at a remarkable clip BECAUSE of the foul differential, so without having data about the fouls committed in the last three or four minutes of the game, I don't know how to test my hypothesis.

Terry B.

Well done, Terry! And as far as testing your hypothesis, two thoughts....

First, blogger extraordinaire Ken Pomeroy has looked at the data skew that comes from teams fouling late when they're behind (but not too far behind) and his numbers suggest the activity in question tacks on roughly four FTAs per game for the winning team. (Alert reader Matthew S., take note!) And, second, may I recommend that you call upon that cherished treasure trove of information for possession charters, play-by-play data?

A heartfelt look at officiating, human error, and our hard-wired reluctance to admit mistakes
I've been surprised at the relative lack of blogospheric notice given to an incident that took place in last Saturday's game between Houston and UAB. The incident in question concerns Cougar coach Tom Penders.

Here's a snip from the Houston Chronicle's write up on the game:

With 52.6 seconds to play in the first half, Penders rose to his feet, staggered and then crumpled to his hands and knees on the sideline. After a few moments, Penders went flat as medical personnel rushed to attend to him.

[Referee John] Hampton strolled by, paused and called a technical foul on Penders, apparently thinking the coach was reacting to a questionable intentional foul call on [Houston].

Even when Penders was taken off the court on a stretcher, Hampton refused to rescind the technical. UAB's Carldell Johnson made both free throws for a 48-44 lead.

"I didn't even realize they called a technical on me until I was told later," Penders said. "That's absurd, that's all I can say."

True, the C-USA issued a statement after the fact saying officials had "exercised poor judgment" in upholding the technical foul. ("Poor judgment." That's stating it rather mildly, no? Best blog headline: "IF HE'D DIED, THEY WOULD HAVE HAD TO EJECT HIM.")

But has there ever been a more eloquent demonstration of how tenaciously all of us will maintain that we're right, even when all the evidence (the man was taken off on a stretcher) says we're wrong?

BONUS analysis from the Official Wonk Dad! Referees weren't the only ones who exercised poor judgment Saturday! As the Official Wonk Dad (hi, Dad!) hastens to add: what about UAB coach Mike Anderson?

Think about it: you've just seen Penders carted off the floor on a stretcher. And now your player is shooting a two-shot technical because, um, the opposing coach has a bad heart and collapsed. (We know now that Penders recovered and indeed came back to coach the second half. But the people in the arena didn't know that at the time.) Is this really something you want to get points out of?

Why in the world wouldn't you tell your player: "I want both free throws to go about five feet. If you so much as come near the basket, you're done for the day."

Would have been the class move. Alas.

Tempo-free stats world domination update (TFSWDU)
The contagious diffusion of tempo-free stats continues!

Readers now have the luxury of blogs that track the tempo-free goods for the Big East (Tempo-Free Stats, via Cracked Sidewalks) and the ACC (Blue Devil Hoops). Indefatigable 0.475-wielding bloggers, Wonk salutes you!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
A salute to the Big Ten, courtesy of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Bobbi Roquemore.

The weekend in Big Ten hoops--tomorrow!
Michigan plays Wisconsin in Ann Arbor. How big was the Wolverines' win Wednesday night over Michigan State? "Huge," says Jim Spadafore in this morning's Detroit News....How high will the Wolverines go in the rankings if they win? How quickly will the adulation balloon deflate if they lose at home? Tune in tomorrow!

Iowa plays Ohio State in Iowa City. Members of the Hawkeyes' 1955 and 1956 Final Four teams will be honored at the game.

Illinois plays Purdue in Champaign. Bruce Weber and Matt Painter go way back, starting a little more than 15 years ago when Weber recruited Painter to come play at Purdue.

Michigan State plays Penn State in East Lansing. Observant Spartan observer Dave Dye of the Detroit News joins in the Geek Day theme and says officiating is stacking the deck in favor of the home teams in Big Ten play: "It is unfortunate that road teams seem to be at such a disadvantage from the opening tip on many nights."...Tom Izzo may not go anywhere for a while, granted, but when he does: will he be succeeded by assistant Jim Boylen? Earnest speculation here.

The weekend in Big Ten hoops--Sunday!
Minnesota plays Indiana in Minneapolis (CBS, 1 ET). He's a former Hoosier. He's also used in this blog as an adjective and a synonym for "inefficient." He's Bracey Wright. Recently summoned from the NBA Development League by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wright is now on the Wolves roster. This morning he answers "five questions" posed to him by the Indianapolis Star.

Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Wonk back! was moved upstairs today--scroll up!
But as long as you're down here anyway, allow me to offer a quick observation:

You, the alert readers, are an impressive group. In the span of 24 hours yesterday, I heard from: Terry B. (see above), whose anonymity I will honor but who has a very worthy footer on his email from a blue-chip firm; Nick D., the Ph.D. student in philosophy (see above); Matthew S., an honest to goodness Ph.D. and faculty member in business administration; and even an assistant district attorney from down SEC way. (If "Law & Order" has taught me anything, it's that all ADAs are extremely attractive women. Alert reader Jeff, you have a funny name for a woman!)

And that's just the readers who fess up to what they do. I'm sure the rest of you are ambassadors, U.S. Supreme Court justices, and free-lance donut testers, as well.

Alert and professionally accomplished readers, Wonk salutes you! I'm proud to know I'm crippling workday productivity in such lofty offices.

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me, simmons, and 150 million other american males
the four dullest topics for a hoops blog
drama, magnitude, and finality
2007 "power"-conference velocity report
special report: in tedium's path
stop DAD: defensive attention deficit
consistency, threes, and stereotypes
they shoot free throws, don't they?
every rebound needs an adjective
fouls: call fewer or allow more
was norman dale wrong?
what's PPWS?
POT: perimeter-oriented team
symphony of altruists
mammalian theory of extreme home-court advantage
law of november weight change
scoring and preventing points: how to

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intro to tempo-free stats
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